Book review: History of Men’s Fashion: What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing by Nicholas Storey
Despite its title, this $30 book is neither about the history of men’s fashion nor about what the well dressed man is wearing. Instead, Nicholas Storey, an English barrister now residing in Brazil, presents his views on the matter of traditional men’s clothing in 182 pages. In his defense, the publisher chose the title with complete disregard for the author’s suggestions.
After the introduction and brief elaborations on General Day Wear, Storey dedicates the majority of the book to Formal Morning Dress, Evening Dress, Country and Sporting Dress as well as Hats, finishing with his brief thoughts regarding Accessories, a pocket dressing guide for select British social events and a very short chapter about the Care of Clothing. Throughout the book, the author provides interesting anecdotes. For example, the tie as we know it today was invented by Washington Tremlett in 1892; Astrakhan is not only a kind of fur, but also a city in Russia; and ‘Cummerbund’ derives from the Urdu and Hindi word kamarband, which is in itself derived from the Persian kamar, meaning waist.
At first glance, it seems to be written from a distinctly British point of view: First, there are shopping tips listed in almost every chapter, however the vast majority of the recommended (top shelf & top money) stores are based in or around London, which limits the average reader’s benefit. Second, the author emphasizes traditional British rules, such as: ‘strictly wear dark suits and dark suits in town – never tweed of brown or suede shoes unless you are merely passing through’ or ‘only wear dark hats in town and never straw, palm, tweed or caps’. Third, he claims the only strictly correct shoe for white tie is evening pumps – while a plain black patent oxford shoe has always been considered to be perfectly correct for white tie in the US and Germany. Fourth, almost all the citations are British; there are repeated references to the various royals of the 20th century; anecdotes involve British figures like Lord Nelson; and proper Court dress is discussed.
While reading the passage about very formal morning wear or ‘THE NECESSARY HATS TO HAVE’ one realizes that this cannot possibly be what British men are wearing today. The suggested selection of hats consists of an opera hat, a silk top hat, a grey silk top hat, a coke / bowler, a homburg hat, a selection of soft felt hats, a Panama hat, a Tyrolean hat, a straw boater… At best, this is what the British gentry at some point used to wear, and maybe not even what the most sophisticated and wealthy British are likely to have in their closets today.
Considering that this book is full of details about morning dress, evening wear and country dress, an area only very few people are actually interested in, this book is certainly not for a beginner seeking advice about building a business wardrobe. Storey is clearly not interested in providing a proper ‘How to guide.’ Accepting that instead he desires to subjectively express his opinions and at times utopian views about clothing, ideals and vanished traditions, the book makes for an entertaining read.
Unfortunately, the selection of pictures throughout the book was rather disappointing in my opinion. Not only were they not printed in color, they were sometimes too well known or of inferior quality to be of interest.
Altogether, for the sartorially inclined, this is book suits one with a profound knowledge of the subject; under no circumstances is it a guide for the beginner or a historical reference.
HISTORY OF MEN’S FASHION: What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Remember When